Solar firm fires group tied to Raleigh business incubator

ccampbell@newsobserver.comAugust 12, 2013 

A Chapel Hill solar firm has cut ties to a troubled organization linked to the Raleigh Business and Technology Center.

Strata Solar announced Monday that it will no longer use the Raleigh-based National Youth Chamber of Commerce to provide installers for its solar farm construction projects.

The youth chamber was founded by former business center director Bob Robinson, who’s currently under police investigation after a city audit found more than $65,000 in cash unaccounted for, among other irregularities. The youth chamber received $290,000 in unexplained payments from the incubator, which received city funding.

“Strata is disappointed in the turn of events at NYCC,” Strata spokesman Blair Schooff said in an email. “In hindsight, it is clear that the tremendous growth in the number of solar installers outstripped NYCC’s ability to adequately recruit and manage such a large temp labor force.”

Schooff said the company became concerned “because of troubling indications of poor record keeping” by the youth chamber.

The announcement came one day after a News & Observer report that showed financial problems at the youth chamber and the Raleigh Business and Technology Center. Chamber chairman Vincent Taylor said last week that he was conducting a forensic audit of the group; he says he took over in April when he discovered financial problems, including missing board minutes and insufficient funding.

Taylor has described the Youth Chamber of Commerce as a nonprofit, but its federal tax-exempt status is still pending. Financial records provided by the group’s former chief operating officer, however, suggested that the Strata Solar project was producing large payments to three partners.

Taylor did not return calls seeking comment Monday, but in a short email wrote “forgive me if I’m a bit distressed.”

Last week, Taylor said he was thinking about separating the Strata labor contract from the youth chamber and running it himself. Over the past two years, Taylor has conducted job fairs and workforce training throughout the state, hiring about 500 workers for Strata.

Schooff said the solar company is no longer doing business with Taylor and his personal firm, Gregorian. Strata selected a new labor supplier to replace Taylor and the youth chamber on Aug. 2, implementing the change on Saturday, Schooff said.

“The solar installers previously working with NYCC have been offered the opportunity to sign up with Strata’s other temporary labor providers so that they can continue their careers in solar construction,” Schooff said.

The youth chamber was one of several firms providing temporary solar workers. Strata aims to employ veterans, disadvantaged youth, and underemployed workers through the labor contracts, Schooff said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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